Mark and Jeff and I are sponsors of our sons' soccer teams this year, a sacrifice in anyone's book. After a bruising Saturday morning chasing the kids through an activity that was something like soccer, we loaded the rowdy bunch of 9-year-olds into the van and headed towards the local pizza parlor, which was a welcome sight, believe me.
When we had the kids watered down, the dads relaxed with some refreshment of our own at a table next to them to wait for the pizza. Mark, who is a fellow programmer, was talking about his work when Jeff chimed in with a remark about Ebay and the fantastic baseball card purchase he had recently made. Mark and I listened with interest as the story wound down. I knew Mark had had the collecting bug on occasion.
"I'll have to introduce you to my buddy Tommy sometime," Jeff said.
"Is that your neighbor? I think I have met him," said Mark. "Maybe at the July 4th barbecue at your house?"
"You might have. He’s right next door. Anyway, he's a stamp collector."
"Really, I didn't know that."
"Yes, has been for years."
"Is that so? I will have to get him to show me his stamp collection."
"Well, he doesn't have one."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he doesn't own a stamp collection."
"... at present. You mean he's sold his, or something."
"No, I don't believe he has ever had a stamp collection."
"Well, then he is planning to acquire a stamp collection?"
"I don't think so. I know that he reads the ads in the stamp collector magazines, so maybe he’s thinking about it, but he's never talked about buying one."
"He subscribes to stamp collector magazines?"
"Oh, yes. He's very enthusiastic about--Cut that out, kids!"
The boys instantly stopped whatever villainy they had been up to--for the moment.
"Yes," Jeff continued. "Tommy's gone to stamp collector conventions. He told me some details about his trip to Chicago to attend the national phil..., phil... something--"
"Philately," supplied Mark.
"That's right, a philately convention. He got very involved in discussions about some of the technical aspects. He has quite a large set of books on stamp collecting."
"Oh, I see. He is some sort of expert, writes articles, that sort of thing?"
"No, I don't think he has ever published. He would have told me if he had, I think."
After a pause, Mark began, "But Jeff, this is ..."
"The sausage on the first table and the pepperoni on the second," I broke in. The pizzas had arrived. After pulling out wedges for the kids (each with a napkin; a lot of good that would do!) and resuming our seats, we paused to taste the peppery hotness.
"Good, huh?" asked Jeff.
"Mm," I replied. We were all absorbed in our slices for a while.
"Look here, Jeff," said Mark, who could be a bit pedantic at times. "You say your neighbor Tommy is a stamp collector, but he doesn't collect stamps, doesn't have a stamp collection, or write about stamps, or deal in stamps. In what sense is he a stamp collector? Isn't it an abuse of the language to call him a stamp collector?"
"I don't know. He says he is very into it."
"But what does that mean?"
I broke in, "I knew a guy that was wild about airplanes. Spent all his time drawing pictures of radical airplanes and reading airplane magazines. Been on an airplane exactly once. That kind of..."
"OK, he's very into stamp collecting," Mark was unwilling to let go, "whatever that means. Are all his friends stamp collectors? Does he spend all his time around stamp collectors?"
"Well, he and his family got a boat this year, and they spend a lot of time at the lake. I don't think they will be at our Labor Day picnic this year."
"So, does he spend any time with other stamp collectors?"
"I understand he goes to a club meeting once a week."
"I just don't understand, Jeff. How can you think that this guy is a stamp collector if he doesn't collect stamps?"
"How should I know?" said Jeff, a little exasperated. "That is what he calls himself. He says he is a stamp collector. Who am I to say he's not? I just thought you would be interested."
There was a general silence while we listened for skullduggery among the suspiciously quiet boys.
Jeff turned to me. "I will have to introduce you to Doug, my neighbor on the other side. He is a Christian..."